It’s been twelve years since Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007.
This monumental product unleashed an avalanche of app development, spurred the creation of the usability discipline, and significantly raised our collective expectations about the service we receive from the companies we patronize.
Four years later in 2011, Marc Andreessen penned his landmark essay “Why Software Is Eating the World” in which he stated, “...All of the technology needed to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”
The implication of this significant event and prescient observation is that the battleground has shifted away from technological leadership, which is now commodified and available to all, and into the realm of customer experience.
Subsequently, we’ve seen companies that are hyper-focused on delivering an amazing customer experience rise to the top of the heap over the last few years. Think about Amazon, Spotify, Netflix. How have these companies’ leaders improved their customer experience? Personalization.
What is personal selling?
By capturing and analyzing customer data then determining their preferences, today’s leaders make relevant recommendations that create a feeling of recognition and care in each customer. They consider the person.
In contrast, network television, terrestrial radio, and your local cineplex are forced to market to the persona, making generalized guesses, playing a numbers game. Obviously, the personal experiences are richer and more valued, so why are B2B companies continuing to focus on general personas in their sales outreach?
How do we know who to sell to?
In today’s ever-expanding marketing automation landscape, we can no longer say we’re missing opportunities because we lack data. CRM systems, for example, act as a centralized depository, collecting mountains of data that used to be kept in notebooks, a Rolodex, or worse, the head of your best salesperson.
We have social media monitoring platforms we use to listen and engage in real-time with brand evangelists and industry influencers. We have Google AdWords to capture interested parties. We have intent data, firmographic data, behavioral monitoring, web analytics, digital optimization, heat maps, marketing automation, sales engagement, customer experience management and dozens of other tools, all with handy-dandy dashboards and instant analytics.
In short, we know more about the buyer, their journey, their interests, intent, pain, and market situation than ever before. We can see both the forest and the trees, meaning we know exactly who to sell to at what companies. The problem we’re facing now is: how?
Disadvantages of automation
Perhaps the lesson we’ve learned by being able to globally scale outreach is the wrong one. We’ve put what’s valuable on the backburner. When you can put your marketing and sales efforts on autopilot, capture leads through gated content, capture email addresses and add them to a nurture cadence, why wouldn’t you— especially when early returns with this technology were so promising?
The reality is, however, that sales automation is not always effective. For example, bulk emails are rarely if ever opened. According to recent research from 6Sense, nearly 99.6% of emails go unopened. Not just unread—not even touched.
Reaching the right decision-makers and making a personal connection has been a cornerstone strategy and approach for enterprise sales engagement for decades. However, it’s become more challenging than ever. In fact, the onslaught of automated outreach used today has created a wall of noise nearly impossible to break through. Our attempts at optimization are having the opposite effect.
Maybe spamming our way into our customers’ hearts isn’t working.
Creating meaningful connections in the digital age
Before, the onslaught of digital everything, businesses, and particularly salespeople, took the time to actually get to know their customers. They’d schedule face-to-face meetings and travel across the state, the country, and at times the world in an attempt to personally connect and establish a trusted relationship on a human level.
That Rolodex was actually useful. It contained not just a history of contact but also personal information gleaned by the salesperson from real conversations such as spouse and children’s names, birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, interests, favorite teams, etc.
That used to be the essence of personal selling. Today, we have to establish that personal relationship on a digital scale. Thankfully, we have the technology to help us do so.
By using today’s tools properly, we can regain that personal touch and showcase that we took the time to get to know our prospects and customers as individuals, not just targets, numbers, or an optimized lead flow. People, not personas.
Below you’ll find some top strategies and fundamental approaches to personal selling in today’s digital age. Use these tips to cut through the clutter, stand out from the crowd, and connect with your target.
Individualize with account-based marketing
Most B2B outreach these days is focused on casting as wide a net as possible hoping to appeal to as many of a certain type of buyer or company as possible. Mass mailing calls for mass (i.e. generic) messaging.
In contrast, account-based marketing (ABM) focuses on a highly-targeted list of key accounts and key executives within those accounts to market products that require a large investment. In this scenario, it is simply imperative to employ personal selling. Nobody is going to buy a six or seven-figure enterprise solution from an impersonal cold-call or formulaic email.
By employing an ABM strategy you can go deep on target accounts and the key buyers within by leveraging the best of today’s lead intelligence tools. Then you can perform the most important step in personal selling: research the individuals.
Do your homework
Once you’ve identified your top targets and key executives, the best thing you can do to maximize your potential success is to research them before you start prospecting. It can be very tempting to feed them into your sales cadence and start firing off emails and calling cold, but this would be mostly wasted effort.
It takes eight contacts to reach a prospect. Even then, they are more likely looking to end the barrage than begin a relationship. Here, too, technology is your friend. There is so much information about your prospects publicly available on the web that you can use to get to know them—leverage it to get the meeting.
Make it personal
It’s not called personal selling by accident. The goal is a face-to-face meeting or scheduled call, but in order to get the meeting, you need to demonstrate you’ve done your homework and made the messaging thoughtful and personal.
Reference something you have in common that you found out through your research. Let them know you enjoyed their latest blog post. Congratulate them on a recent deal they cemented.
Remember, you’re trying to add value to your prospect’s life, not just meet your KPIs, so make the outreach and the conversation about them and their needs. Connecting on a personal level will help you get through the door.
Cut through the clutter and be real
Try to remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday. Pretty hard, right? Now try to remember the best meal you’ve ever had. A little easier to do. That’s because when something is special, we remember it. So, take the time to do something special that your prospects would appreciate.
At my company, we use personal gifts and the mantra R.E.A.L., which stands for relevant, empathetic, authentic, and lasting, but there are many ways to make yourself remarkable. Go the extra mile. Be creative. And once you’ve cut through the clutter and secured the meeting, make sure that you stand out from the crowd.
Remember that it’s a relationship
B2B selling is like dancing—one wrong step can send weeks of effort crashing to the ground. Don’t sacrifice the goodwill and trust you’ve built in creating rapport by simply throwing it all away and switching to a transactional mindset. Yes, you have to secure meetings, ask for the business, and work through the contracts, but these processes are made easier if the hard sell is held in reserve. The hard sell creates hard feelings. However, if you keep the concept of creating value for your customers top of mind, then signing the contract becomes a fulfillment of their wishes and not just the manifestation of yours.
Don’t forget your manners
The very essence of personal selling is treating your potential customers like people, not numbers. You’re seeking to create relationships, and the currency of relationships is respect and reciprocity, so don’t forget your manners.
If you’ve had a meeting, send a thank-you note. If you see something relevant to your new contact, send it along with a personal note referencing why you thought it would help. Avoid overly-promoting your own solution and instead, share content or engage in conversations about their business challenges and personal interests as well. Showing that they are always top of mind, that you’re always thinking of them and their needs, will deepen your bond.
Expand your post-sale universe
The best part about personal selling is that the relationships you form add value to your life and continue to help you meet your quota for years to come. People buy from people that they like and trust, and once that trust is earned, they return again and again.
Keep the personal engagement alive by moving forward, further establishing trust, and adding another strong connection channel into the company post-sales process. The more you get to know someone, the more you can do for them, and the more they will do for you, meaning you can use the same principles of being personal and real to do business with and solve problems for your customers long-term—which is the whole point of personalized selling, after all.
Paul is an accomplished brand storyteller and strategist with 20+ years of experience working with some of the world’s more recognized brands while at top advertising agencies and fastest-growing technology companies. Currently serving as Head of Brand for Alyce, Paul helps define the brand purpose, develop the brand messaging and oversee the creative output of the in-house design team.